Master’s in English as a second language program

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Introduction to ESL programs

Since it was officially founded in 1776, the United States’ population has exploded from 2.5 million to its current population of 330 million. Bill Clinton once said, “More than any other nation on Earth, America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants.” Immigrants from all over the world arrive in America hoping for a fresh start, a better life, or more opportunities.  

To thrive in America – both educationally and professionally – demands an understanding of English. As the official language in the United States, the U.S. Census estimates that about 80% of Americans only speak English at home. For immigrants to excel in a new country they need to first learn the language. English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are designed to assist individuals develop reading, writing, fluency, and verbal communication in English. Teachers, curriculum designers, and tutors are all important people who play a big role in supporting and educating these individuals. With a master’s degree in ESL, you will be academically prepared for a lifelong career in supporting and educating ESL learners both young and old.  

What do I need to apply?

To apply for admission to a master’s in ESL program, you will need a bachelor’s degree in ESL or in a related field from an accredited university, showcasing a minimum 3.0 GPA. You will also need to write a personal statement that details the research plan of your thesis, any prior work experience, and what you can contribute to the department. It is common that GRE scores and letters of recommendation will be required too. The letters of recommendation should be from someone who can speak on behalf of your academic skills, like a professor. Some programs may also require professional experience in the field, so they might ask that you have a current teaching license. Applications can be filled out on the school’s website, and typically you are expected to pay an application fee.  

On-campus, online, or hybrid program

Many universities are offering additional online coursework to encourage students to appeal to a wider variety of learners. This style of learning may appeal to students who are unsure about attending traditional classes because of the risk of infection, or simply because of preference. Students often favor online education due to the flexibility it offers, which can accommodate commitments like playing for sports teams, work, or family.  

Some courses may be offered with a hybrid component which can bridge the gap between online and on-campus education. These courses or programs typically combine online learning with intensive class schedules that take place on campus.  

Does my university need to be accredited?

Accreditation is a crucial component of any academic program at all levels. This shows other academic institutions, licensing agencies, and professional employment enterprises that the academic education you received was properly vetted by an accreditation agency. These agencies are the pillars for academic success because they ensure that an academic program has met or exceeded a set of standards set by the accreditation agency. Without accreditation, higher education programs would not be held accountable for the academic knowledge they pass onto their students. Academic accreditation creates uniformity between academic programs, so if you earned a degree from an academic institution in California, but are applying for employment in Ohio, your employer will see the degree you’ve earned qualifies you for employment.  

What will I learn?

Coursework in a master’s in ESL program will focus on teaching methods, theories, and research-based evidence required for effective teaching practices for ESL students. It incorporates teaching the skills needed to modify instructions and assessments to help students with written and spoken English.  

Language theory and production

This course will teach you how second language acquisition differs from first language acquisition, language learner variables like cognitive styles, and second language development. You will also learn teaching styles, learning strategies, productive skills, and complementary skills.  

Cultural and linguistic diversity

A course in cultural and linguistic diversity will teach you the knowledge and skills needed to work with ESL students in mainstream settings. You will learn how to address student backgrounds like gender, age, race, culture, and learning styles to benefit your students.  

ESL curriculum and assessment

You will learn about theoretical and practical issues related to the ESL curriculum, and analyze it to create better learning outcomes and syllabus design. You will also learn about effective assessment techniques for ESL learners which complement their language skills.  

Teaching English as a second language (TESOL) methods

This is a crucial part of an ESL program because this course provides instruction on TESOL methods that focus on receptive and productive skills such as listening, speaking, reading, and writing.    

Practicum in ESL

This portion of the program will be a supervised teaching experience for students. It will apply the formal education learned in the program coursework to practical knowledge for on-the-job experience in an ESL classroom.

Certificate options

By obtaining a certificate, a variety of different career opportunities can become available for you. For example, to teach ESL abroad a TEFL certificate is generally required. Regardless of which certificate you choose, you can expand your knowledge to better prepare you to enter the workforce.  

TESOL certificate  

A TESOL certificate is widely accepted as the preferred certification for individuals who want to pursue a career teaching ESL in public schools. It is geared toward teaching students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds to enhance their English language reading, writing, and speaking skills.  

TEFL certificate  

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate is often required to teach English to non-native English speakers abroad. You will learn how to create lesson plans, best-practice teaching techniques, and understand cultural diversity in the classroom.  

Teaching credential  

If you’d like to become a licensed public school teacher then a teaching license is required. Requirements vary by state, although stipulate a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and the completion of a teaching credential program. This incorporates student teaching to apply classroom knowledge to real-world work experience.  

Degree cost and financial aid for students

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the total cost of a 2-year master’s degree is roughly $32,870.  

Although many people in the United States yearn for a higher education degree, the cost of a degree can be a significant deterrent. Luckily there are financial aid options available in the form of loans, grants, and scholarships. One of the most popular forms of financial aid is Federal Student Aid. You fill out an online application form with information details of your financial situation. Once your FASFA is submitted, the department will analyze the information to assess if you are eligible for financial aid, and you should hear back in a few weeks.  

Career options

This individual is responsible for running an efficient ESL program. They take the lead on administration support, budget, work with community support, mentor staff, and oversee the educational program.  

The average salary for an ESL program director is $81,156.   

An ESL teacher is responsible for preparing course materials and creating lessons that help non-native English speaking students succeed in writing, reading, and speaking English as their second language.  

The average salary for an ESL teacher is $45,544.

An ESL curriculum writer is in charge of developing new and revised teaching materials for ESL programs. These programs can be for school districts, companies, or other businesses which aim to create educational content that will benefit ESL students in a variety of settings.  

The average salary for an ESL curriculum writer is $50,103. 

Continuing education

At the end of your master’s program, you can have the option to continue studying to the doctoral level. A doctorate extends your skills and knowledge in a specialized area, and ultimately your career opportunities.   

Ph.D. in education  

A Ph.D. in education is designed to prepare students for careers in teaching or research. You will not only participate in doctorate level coursework but be responsible for conducting your own research which benefits the program. This program has a theoretical study-based approach to education and learning.  

Ed.D in organizational change and leadership

If you’re looking to earn a professional doctorate for an administrative role, then perhaps an Ed.D in organizational change and leadership would suit you best. This program is for individuals who want to be employed in leadership roles to implement change within their organization.  

Ph.D. in higher education

This doctorate program prepares students for careers in leadership roles in higher education. This includes deans, college presidents, provosts, and more. Coursework will focus on leadership in education, the history of higher education, and examine philosophical theories of higher education. 

TESOL International Association  

TESOL International Association is an association of professionals who aim to advance the quality of English language teaching. They provide users with professional development, research, networking opportunities, and career options.  

TEFL Organization   

This organization is responsible for the certification, education, and development of English educators who teach in different countries. They provide information and education for people who would like to learn more about, or become certified to teach English in other countries.  

National Association for Bilingual Education  

This non-profit association has been advocating for educational equity and excellence since 1975. They focus on the needs of bilingual and multilingual students required to academically succeed like influencing research, programs, creating policies, and providing professional development.